Dirt boating comes to sailing capitol

Published on October 25th, 2014

Middletown, RI (October 25, 2014) – It seemed only fitting that Olympic sailor Cy Thompson took first place Saturday in the first-ever Red Bull Regatta at Second Beach. But this was dirt sailing, not wet sailing.

The competition pitted seasoned land sailors against those, like Thompson, more accustomed to the seas. Still, Thompson took the trophy. The 2012 Olympic contender and 2016 Olympic hopeful for the Virgin Islands credited his win to the pit team that gave him the push that set him on his way.

Saturday’s event provided a thrill for competitors that combined rivalry with whimsy. One land-sailing heat featured do-it-yourself vessels, crafted by artists that ranged from a dragon to a tiger to a coffin. A wheelbarrow took that race.

“The coffin quite rightly comes in last place,” intoned the day’s emcee, Andy Green, a well-known commentator for the America’s Cup.

Red Bull selected Second Beach as the venue because of its proximity to Newport, the longtime home to the storied America’s Cup race. Most recognized for its energy drinks, the company reached out to Sail Newport several months ago to partner with it in hosting the inaugural regatta.

“What Rhode Island has become is the center of training for the best sailors in the world,” said Brad Read, executive director of Sail Newport.

Rhode Island fielded a team of eight sailors who went head-to-head with challengers from North American Blokart Sailing Association. The local sailors had never competed on blokarts but arrived at Second Beach early Saturday to practice on the figure-eight course.

“If you know how to sail, land sailing is the same as water sailing,” Read said.

The event drew dozens of sailors and bystanders out into the sunshine. Onlookers sipped complimentary Red Bull as they took in the colorful scene.

Blokarts are one-design, wind-powered racing machines. Resembling go-carts and featuring sails, they can reach speeds of 25 mph and higher. Many of the sport’s competitors are drawn from the sailing world.

“For me, it combines my two favorite sports, car racing and sailing. I love it,” Newport’s Jeremy Wilmot said. A professional sailor, Wilmot watched the final race seated on a hay bale lining the course.

Jesse Fielding, also a professional sailor taking his first go at the sport, compared it with riding a big out-of-control tricycle. Still, his competitive spirit came alive.

“If you put us on a start line, we’re still racing,” Fielding said. “That’s what we do for a living so it’s no different on a Saturday.”

He would do it again in a heartbeat, he said. “It’s awesome.”

And, he will get the chance. Green announced that Red Bull plans to make the regatta an annual event that next year will feature an open do-it-yourself division. Competitors will be invited to design and enter their own custom-made craft.

Report by The Providence Journal. Click here for photos.

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